Sony Zeiss FE Distagon T* 35mm f/2.8
Leica-R Summicron 35mm f/2
Canon FD 35mm f/2 SSC (Thorium)
Canon FD 35mm f/2 non-SSC (Thorium)
We also added a classic zoom, a Angeneiux 35-70mm f/2.5-3.3.
Among the three, the Canon 35mm f/2.0 SSC offers the sharpest overall quality, followed by the Leica Summicron-R 35mm. The classic non-SSC Canon 35mm isn’t quite as sharp but has less purple fringing than the Leica. Pay attention to the horizontal lines to the left of the square and the #18.
Canon SSC Thorium
At f/2.8, the classic primes sharpen up nicely. The non-SSC Canon edges past the Leica. The Sony Zeiss FE 35 triggers a different white balance when mounted on our A7R but holds its own in the center against these vintage superstars. The Angenieux zoom is the worst of the group but it genuinely is a f/2.5 at this focal length.
Once you get to f/4.0, the Angenieux suddenly leap frogs to first place, beating these classic primes and even the latest Sony Zeiss FE 35 in the center. We’re almost splitting hairs here.
Once you get to f/5.6, the difference get smaller and smaller, and to be frank, it’d be hard to complain about any of these lenses.
Once you get to f/8.0, it’s hard to see differences. You could shuffle the lenses around and it wouldn’t matter.
f/2.0 lower right
It’s pretty obvious why the Canon 35mm f/2.0 developed such a reputation. Compared to the Leica Summicron-R 35mm which was a legend of its own, the Canon Thoriums do great.
f/2.8 lower right
Now it makes sense why the Angenieux 35-70 goes for $1500 in mint condition. We’ll get to this later, but there’s no doubt that the French zoom lens is beating Sony’s latest and greatest 35mm prime lens in this portion of the frame.
f/4.0 lower right
Now the Leica edges ahead of the non-SSC Canon 35mm f/2.8 Thorium lens.
f/5.6 lower right
f/8.0 lower right
f/2.0 upper right
Since the Leica is also sharper than the Canon 35 FD lenses in this location of the frame, I suspect that our FD to NEX adapter is a bit off-center.
f/2.8 upper right
The horrible performance of the Angenieux zoom along with the diminished performance of Canon 35mm FD lenses really suggests that our FD to NEX adapter isn’t as well designed as it feels. According to Roger Cicala and Lloyd Chambers, even differences of 5 to 10 microns can be enough to affect picture quality.
f/4.0 upper right
f/5.6 upper right
f/8.0 upper right
True to our analysis above, as your stop down the classic lenses like the Leica Summicron-R, it continues to get sharper and shaper whereas the Sony FE 35mm hits a ceiling in sharpness early on.
The Sony Zeiss FE 35mm f/2.8 is still a great lens. It’s lightweight, sharp wide-open, and has all of the convenience of autofocus. For general photography, it’s still a good choice if you ignore the $800 price tag. That said, while center sharpness and wide-open sharpness is good at f/2.8, but landscapes you may be better off with vintage lenses. Sure, you have to deal with manual focus, but for landscapes, you’re live-view focusing anyway and taking the time to compose your shot.
Looking at three legendary classics, the Canon 35mm f/2.8 Thorium SSC, the Leica Summicron-R 35mm f/2.0 and the Angenieux 35-70mm f/2.5-3.3, it’s clear that these three lenses deserve their reputation. Even with a high-resolution 36 megapixel sensor, these three lenses are able to “hold their own” against one of the best contemporary computer designed lenses.
Sony Zeiss FE 35mm f/2.8
Angenieux 35-70mm f/2.5-3.3
$975 (good) to $1800 (collector’s grade)
Canon FD 35mm f/2.0 Thorium
$250 (fair) to $500 (collector’s grade)
+$50 for SSC version
Only the lenses going up to f/16 (as opposed to f/22) are Thorium.
Leica Summicron-R 35mm f/2.0 (E55)
$975 (good) to $2500 (new-old-stock)
Keep in mind that there are multiple versions of the Leica 35mm f/2.0 lens. The last optical formula was in continuous production from 1977 to 2009. The collector’s grade ones from 2009 can be $2500 but the older lenses can still be just as good. The Serial # should be higher than 2791417. Lenses built prior to that serial number use a different optical formula.